Why are we even having this conversation still?
The article (linked below) from a couple of years ago, hit my Facebook feed this morning. And I usually ignore the pap these guys publish. But reading it, I oscillated from righteous indignation to vehement nodding. It’s pushed a button or two.
Read Good Men Project article: The pros and cons of loving a ‘strong woman’…
If you have been reading my blog, you will know that someone who I was starting to care about, walked away leaving the parting suggestion in his wake, that I am “too headstrong.” And I was bewildered and saddened and confused by the seemingly barbed accusation. Still am. I don’t know what he meant. I know it was important enough to guarantee the demise of a short-lived entanglement. And I cried. I cried because he called me headstrong. That doesn’t seem very strong to me. I cried because I think I know what English men mean when they say this kind of thing about a woman. And it is never a compliment.
I was sad because I spent well into my 30s wanting to be the exact opposite of this horrible thing he had leveled at me. What I would have given to be soft and compliant and little and vulnerable, non-threatening… to appear like I needed protection, to be that perfect blend of needy and nurturing. I have never been able to strike this balance. I am not needy. I am independent and come out fighting more often than I should. I know this. I wont ask for help, rarely give ground – not because I am right, but if I admit a chink in the armour, I can be hurt. I have scars far too deep to let that happen again. The battle cry stays just at my throat. Not because I want to, but because this is what I have learned from life.
And as I type this I am weeping big ol’ silly slow tears. Because here I sit more vulnerable and scared and in need, than any one I know. Not many people have ever seen me cry. That is not something I do in public.
My Mother is a wonderful mix of resilience and resourcefulness. She is also beautiful, and petite, and feminine. She was sophisticated and elegant. In my child’s eye, I remember watching her; coquettish, complimentary, she would tilt her head back laughing prettily. Men were enamoured with her. I’m not sure she ever knew that. She only had eyes for my Father. Still. Still. Almost 50 years later. And I was so jealous of her. Her dark skin and big eyes and tininess. Men wanted to help her and rescue her, and fell in love with her. And I was a wobbly giraffe-like giant – I towered over her so quickly that it feels like it was always me giving her hugs not the other way around. Like we’d flipped roles. I was tall and ugly and clumsy, gorky and questioning and clever. And a lot of the time I was scratchy, like a wounded cat, terrified and backed into a corner. Least, that’s how it felt in my teens. Like I had to fight for myself, because no one had my back. Even as a little kid, no one seemed to believe the best in my intentions or support my dreams. I was a good girl without a voice, and no one seemed to know that.
I wont paint the detail into the picture here. It’s not the time. Lets just say I was bullied at school for being different. Even at 5 and 6 years old, sometimes physically. Taunted and ostracised. Add to that, the feeling that I never had the full or unconditional support of my parents. I always seemed to be the one in the wrong, the one being told off… even when I had done my very best. And I repeat, I was a good girl. My very best was usually for someone else, not for my own benefit. Anyway, they seem small things, these two contributors. But in a sensitive and innately empathic little girl, this was an anxiety-causing combination. I had to be my own hero, as the adults in my life had life happening. So I toughened up. I was financially supporting myself at 17, had been kicked out of home, had little contact with my parents. This is unusual where I come from. Rare in the community I grew up in. I was pretty young. So I got tougher. But on the inside, to my inner circle of trusted friends, still a softie who wore her heart on her sleeve.
So then add in that I am a Kiwi chick. A product of a country where equality is a bedrock of our culture. The pioneer spirit. Gender equality. We are expected to be independent thinkers, practical and pragmatic of attitude, partners in the true sense – not possessive or possessions. I like my space, I have an opinion, I have found my voice. I am sure of myself and am fully formed. Finally embracing the strong, confident, woman I have become, and being proud of the wise, thoughtful, sensitive little girl I was.
So yes, I am headstrong. Strong. In all the negative ways the article lists. In the unwanted, unbidden, ways the Lover implied. I am not what most English men have been looking for. I will not bend to their whim, or pretend a submission. I challenge status quo and have a fire in my belly. I speak up for an injustice – be it my own or others’ – in the bedroom or boardroom. But I am also the wonderful things that having a true partner offers; trust and loyalty and laughter and great sex. A confident woman will still have days when she feels frumpy and inelegant and not good enough. And she will speak too loud or too quickly when she is tired or scared. But she will be honest and open and want the best for her man.
But isn’t that the problem? All of this means there is a need for a man to step up and match the energy and faith a strong woman offers. And how scary is that?
My birthday tradition… that time of the year again.
42. The answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything. And I am waving goodbye to it on Tuesday. It was an interesting year. I started out full of energy and hope and excitement as always, and end it with a strange melancholy I’d not seen coming. An extended introspection which has left me feeling ‘out of body’. But in turn, stronger and more powerful for it. Like something big and important happened and however it ended, there was learning and inspiration. Not from him… but from the allowing myself to feel again. And a sweet tasting discovery that I am actually ready to stand out there and let someone else take the lead, take my hand.
So this birthday I had a little place in my heart that thought perhaps, I would get to share it with someone special. A little slap n’ tickle, a lot of laughter. Drinking til dawn and a dollop of chaos. Meh. It makes it no less worth celebrating solo. I have always looked forward to birthdays. Not for the party or cake or even super lovely affirmations from my people around the world. I embrace them because at times in my life… I have not wanted to see another one.
And sometimes I remember the resentment of having stayed, being made to stay, being asked to stay. And sometimes I mourn the sensitive, empathic girl I was, who found the world such an achingly sad place that she didnt want to be in it. But mostly, mostly, I give thanks every year for the gift of my journey. And the wonders that I see and hear, and the feeling of it all. The chance at a smile, simple joys, the tug at my heart when a loved one is close. So I celebrate. Another year ventured through.
Every year, since I was 16, I’ve held dear a birthday tradition. The ‘new view’. I have not yet broken the pilgrimage. The premise is to open a window on the morning of my birthday and look upon a new place. Be in a new place. Experience a new vista. Start again. Start the next 12 months with clear, fresh eyes and excitement for what they may bring.
I’ve always enjoyed spontaneous roadtrips and have traveled all over the UK; know the geography of England and Scotland better than most natives. But my birthday tradition has been the motivation to discover new towns or seek out places I’ve not visited before, not woken in; Bruges, Venice, Rome, Ludlow… I have woken in some of the most beautiful, quaint, or awe-inspiring rooms. And the day can lead to wandering wintery cobbled streets, walking crystallised pathways, or tramping wind-blasted hilltops. I’ve been in a capacity crowd at Twickenham, and have sat for 5 hours to have a piece of artwork etched into my back.
This year? Well. I had booked a lush hotel room to surprise a boy, thinking it would be the scene of quaffing bubbles and the use of a giant hearth-rug in front of an open stone fireplace. But I’ve cancelled that, with a resigned smile and wistful nod to my recent, unusually inflated, sense of romance.
And there will still be wine. And wandering. I will fling open the little window of my tiny budget hotel room, and gaze out on a New View at sunrise. Then there will be nostalgia and old haunts. There will be motorbikes and music. And I will be happy on the anniversary of my birth day. I will know I am blessed, and celebrate another year gifted.
‘Emma’s Box Hill’ – Surrey
A few weeks ago I glibly referenced my early childhood eating disorder, to someone I was beginning to trust. And mentioned that when I was a tween my Dad used to joke that I’d end up obese because I stayed inside reading on sunny days. I tried to explain, lightly and casually, how those seemingly harmless jibes from him had impacted on the sensitive self-conscious bookworm I was. The response was a dismissive “…up north we just get on with it…we don’t need to talk about stuff like that…” Or something similar. And I considered the things I’d already mentioned. About my past and my history. I had consciously censored and filtered much of my story in order not to overwhelm, but gifted chapters, in my adopted anecdotal, yarn-spinning style. Clowning and story telling. Shared because I thought he was going to be important. In return I received bullet-pointed swapsies. But guessed that there was more and was happy to wait to hear the big stuff. It takes time for most people to build trust enough to unwrap their past and gift it to another human being.
I’m a bit different. For a myriad of reasons. I am, at my most ‘stagey’, an entertainer; regaling friends and acquaintances with random adventure tales or odd ‘Sliding Doors’ episodes. And they get it. They know it’s part of my coping strategy. I’ll share because it’s part of my process. Part of my healing and an acknowledgement of how I got here. In this, there is ownership but not regret. There is clarity in a retelling. And I share because I grew up with a diverse loving peer-group that were supportive; honest and open, we learned from each other – gifting wisdom, debating, growing and seeking together. Importantly, I share with people I am attracted to because the bonding, the exchange of words, communication, is my aphrodisiac. To hear someone else’s story is the ultimate beautiful prize for sharing mine.
I share, and always with a joke, because that’s my protection mechanism. It’s a smoke and mirrors strategy. It offers the opportunity to laugh at the hilarious or the weird situations I find myself in. Or the chunky-chewy bits of life. And while I share this noise, the real stuff is locked away. The private, scary, scarred, parts of me remain well-hidden. These are not for general consumption. They aren’t often for lovers. Or even most friends.
And I know my candidness can be challenging, not always endearing. Slightly outside my current community’s norms. It is me making fun of myself, shrugging off heart-break or disclosing my own errors in judgement to entertain or educate. I try not to hurt, implicate, or cause pain for others – they are my versions only and always. Self-deprecating, self-chastising. And this is hard for some. The attuned will sense it is all bluster and know that in quiet moments the real me will relax respectfully with my secrets. Upon occasion I will want to speak of them. But rarely will. Why would I? Better to play the goofy clown. Better to make it all one big joke. Less threatening.
The important stuff? I don’t easily share that. I haven’t shared the parts of me that are dark or sad. So while I yabber-on and share things that most people would baulk at knowing, let alone telling, I hold my real secrets close. Guarded and sacred.
This? This tedious love stuff I have been writing about recently? That seems like I am baring my soul? That’s just a tale of paralysing humiliation. An embarrassing consequence of foolish faith. The story of me ending up a passive passenger on someone else’s car-crash of a journey. But it’s not private. It’s not something to be protected. Hidden. It’s another silly interlude to add to my many stories of people and places and possibilities. And fuck-ups. They make me look very stupid. But entertain others. With my drivel and ditties.
So, while I may be accused of oversharing, be it known that I am cautious and careful. Well-positioned screens of haze. And those that are gifted insight into the darker places, the people I select, who I begin to trust? Who are chosen? They should not be fearful of me in my slow, honest moments, when I am not making jokes or flailing my arms in animated theme-threading. For it means I think you are important. That I am letting you in. And these far less frequent exchanges are precious.
So please don’t shut-down or dismiss them. If they become too hard to hear… Just whisper, just take my hand and kiss me quiet.
The slow burns are the best of them all. The exquisite delay. The drawn-out exploration. Building and securing. Taking pleasure in the journey. Seeking, and delight in discovery. These are the ones worth waiting for.
Swinging chandeliers and lightning bolts are easy. We are conditioned to search them out, to look for them everywhere. To expect them. Instant and consumable. But they are fickle. The potency is depleted, the strike scars.